Sunday, May 15, 2011

Pre-Departure Orientation

"It's not good, it's not bad, it's just different." 
If you're an AFS participant and have read your handbook, I'm sure you are very familiar with this phrase. Having attended my PDO yesterday in Camas, WA, the phrase is pretty much instilled into my brain. A little bit repetitive and a tad bit idealistic for my taste, but regardless, it does accurately depict my PDO experience, and I'm sure will be very fitting in the coming months of my arrival in Belgium. Prior to any AFS organized gathering, I had already accumulated an idea of what they would be like based off of various blogs; ice-breakers, interactive endeavors, the works. I was spot on. I have never been one for these sorts of activities, but it was surprisingly enjoyable. Granted, it wouldn't have been nearly as fun without the awesome people I met. Everyone I met was great, and the majority of them were also studying abroad in Europe. Unfortunately, I didn't meet anyone else who was going to Belgium, which makes me much more anticipatory to meet all of my fellow Belgium participants in August! One of the AFS volunteers told me that there is a very limited number of available spots for Belgium in the US, around thirteen or so. That's an astonishingly low number, so I'm both very fortunate and humbled that I happened upon one of those spots. At lunch, all of the outgoing participants joined the existing exchange students in a separate facility. One of the volunteers working with them, who happens to be a really great family friend, told me that she had a Belgian exchange student in her group. I really wasn't that amped on the idea of approaching him, because I tend to get pretty awkward, and I knew I wouldn't have any questions of value, seeing as I've already researched just about everything I wanted to know about Belgium. Of course, he ended up finding me, and a short lived, stiff conversation ensued. One thing I need to work on before I leave, brushing up on some much needed social skills. If all else fails, I've gotta fake it until I make it. With that said, I'm still very excited for my trip, and although the PDO was a painfully long experience, I'm looking forward to the orientation in New York. It's all happening, isn't it? Well, it will. Still no word on my host family.

A bientôt,
An awkward, near exchange student

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Ten Desolate Declarations

     When I think of my time that will be spent studying abroad next year, I hardly thinking of actually studying. Rather, I envision all the tasty pastries I'll get to try, being able to freely (and legally) drink, taking the train to explore Belgium in my solitude, and extending beyond the borders of Belgium and expanding my travels to various countries within Europe. Yes, I'd like to see the Eiffel Tower and spend a day savoring macarons and croissants, visit the Louvre and see the Mona Lisa, walk the Avenue des Champs-Élysées; I admit to being completely américain et générique. I also look forward to venturing to the unspoken parts of Europe, the hidden gems tucked neatly away with European pride, that little pâtisserie, park, or cafe that I will be able to validate as a part of my own, my Belgium. I get a strange sensation when I think that Belgium will be my home next year. Not just the place I stay for a year, but the home I live, breath, sleep, eat, cry, laugh, have shitty days, have fantastic days, brood and thrive in. The home in Portland, Oregon, USA that has become so much of a safety net for me will be gone. After Belgium, my time feeding off my parents will be near expiration, than I’m on my own two feet and set of hands to scrounge for whatever decent life I can make for myself. It’s a terrifying feeling. But as most have come to learn, the things that scare us are usually the experiences most worth having. My living adrenaline rush for a year, that’s what Belgium will be. With that said, I’d like to make a list of things that I wish to accomplish during my year abroad:

1.       Abandoning my tendency for excess.
2.       Learning how to live again, without excuse and without regret.
3.       Striving for anything that I’ve been shamed out of by feeling inadequate.
4.       Becoming a citizen of the world; familiar with literature, art, music, politics and current events of various countries.
5.       Documenting anything and everything that I won’t want to forget. This includes writing, which I’ve missed immensely. I’m depending on this experience to revive that urge to put pen to paper.
6.       Discovering my future. What will serve as the most rewarding experience? I’ve struggled with the concept of college for too long.
7.       Finding reassurance in the fact that my high school journey has been strange, discombobulating, and left something to desire. Ending it in a foreign country should help to relieve any dissatisfaction I feel by not enjoying it. No, I didn’t go to prom, I went to BELGIUM for a year. What exactly did you do?
8.       Making life long friends. I’ve heard all too much that I will meet people who I will forever be tied to through this mutual experience; I’m beginning to believe it’s true. It’s hard for me to grasp this idea, as I’m so god-damn independent, and having any friends who will stick around for the long haul is as foreign to me as Europe is.
9.       Opening my eyes to the abundance of beauty in the world. So often I’m blinded to it by my comfy, American life.
10.   Ultimately, I hope to take away from this trip those which you cannot express in words. There are some things so exquisite, even the most talented writer cannot adequately define them. I want to learn those things, live by them, and relish in the unknowns of the world.